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Are Reel-to-Reel tapes coming back?

Discussion in 'Source Components' started by Flint, Dec 24, 2017.

  1. Flint

    Flint "Do you know who I am?" Superstar

    Will I be able to start purchasing Reels again?

    This is a great video about the growth of new prerecorded Reel-to-Reel tapes and the trouble of finding a new player. He also does a very decent job providing a history of the format and some of the sound quality characteristics. It is for beginners, but it seems to be very accurate rather than uninformed like most YouTube tutorials on audio equipment.

  2. rammisframmis

    rammisframmis Well-Known Member

    Saw that video awhile ago. There are many obsticales to adoption of tape, but honestly disc is just as good if analog is the goal. Tape has a distortion transfer function which resembles a balanced amplifier. Disc is more like a single ended triode amp, with even harmonics dominating. Tape is all odd harmonics.

    Then there seems to be a battle between NAB and CCIR equalization, which is a gigantic point of confusion with buyers. Its a very complicated area which is not good for adoption.
  3. Wardsweb

    Wardsweb Renaissance man

    To answer your questions, yes there are tapes being made today that you can purchase (prerecorded and blank). The issue is they are all very expensive. Law of supply and demand. It is a niche market and a handful of suppliers. I have seen prices range from $300-$700 per tape. The Tape Project is in the middle at $450-500.

    This guy has a list of places.
  4. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me


    I was about to use an analogy with wine: how I love wine, but, for affordability reasons (partly due to the amount of it that I drink!) $10-15 a bottle is where I sit. But if I wanted to spend $450-500 a bottle I'm sure I would experience some incredible bottles of wine. (See my book for a similar experience, only with single malt scotch.)

    My analogy would then continue into the music realm, and start off with how much I enjoy the sound of CDs at, coincidentally, $10-15 each. So imagine that I then decide to make the jump to $450-500 reels and... find out that I enjoy the sound less than CD! Call it an inverted analogy if you like.

    I suppose to some those reels do sound much much better than CD (or SACD?) or even hi-res digital downloads. But as is pointed out in the video, in at least one case, those 15 ips reels have been made using a 192/24 digital file. So why not eliminate the middle man, and huge expense, and simply play the digital file directly, rather than first copying it to tape and then playing the tape?

    I'm sure there's more to it. There has to be. Right?

  5. rammisframmis

    rammisframmis Well-Known Member

    Actually, you've covered it pretty well. You are correct that a good proportion of music comes from digital files originally, the exception being music recorded before digital. However, even when those hyper expensive 15 ips tapes are made using original analog masters, they make a copy of the master, either digital or analog, then use that copy to make the consumer copies. So you go through an additional of lossy analog or digital before your tape is made. Original (fragile) master tapes from 50 years ago obviously can't be played over and over just to make copies for consumers!

    So then, its a matter of why bother. I agree - just play the file.


    As I mentioned in my post above, analog media has a transfer function which is relatively rich in distortion components, some of it euphonic, some not. Tape has mostly odd harmonic distortion, and disc (vinyl) is similar to what a single ended triode amplifier produces, having a naturally even spread of both even and odd, ending at the 5th harmonic or thereabouts. I've found to me at least that the balanced distortion components produced by a single ended triode actually adds a pleasing richness to sound, especially music which was digital at one point.

    So that is really a good case to make for the continued existence of vinyl.

    If however, you question why there should be distortion at all in what you play (I'm sure you are in that camp), then digital is unquestionably the way to go since digital is essentially distortionless.
  6. rammisframmis

    rammisframmis Well-Known Member

    Related to the above, the visual comparison below is something I've been meaning to do for awhile, and now seems to be a good time.


    Both of these measurements are taken at the nominal reference level for the medium. On the X axis is the frequency up to 10kHz, and the Y axis is the distortion in dB. The measured distortion is in the box in percentage.

    Looking at the spectra for each, you can easily see that vinyl has both even and odd harmonic distortion components at 2kHz, 4kHz, 6kHz (even distortion components), and 3kHz, 5kHz, 7kHz (odd distortion components) decreasing in level at a linear rate. The largest spike at 1kHz is the original test frequency. The tape spectra however shows almost exclusively odd harmonics at 3kHz, 5kHz and 7kHz with a very weak 2nd harmonic component at 2kHz.

    This in a nutshell is why these two media sound different, and both sound different to digital. Given a choice for me, I would take the vinyl "coloration" in a heartbeat; the presence of strong even order components tends to make the resulting sound more "rich", while odd order components by themselves tend to sound "harsh".

    These measurements also show why there are so many shades of gray in the argument about which media "sounds better".
    Last edited: Dec 25, 2017
    Zing likes this.
  7. JeffMackwood

    JeffMackwood Maxi-Me


    Actually way cool!


  8. Flint

    Flint "Do you know who I am?" Superstar

    I find this discussion fascinating.
  9. Dentman

    Dentman Well-Known Member

    I love this stuff!
  10. rammisframmis

    rammisframmis Well-Known Member

    One detail which I neglected to mention is an explanation of how the information in the distortion spectra could explain why a vinyl copy of a particular recording could sound better than the digital copy of that same recording.

    If, say, the original master was sourced from magnetic tape, it would have the distortion spectra which I linked to above; tape has almost no even order harmonic distortion components - it would be almost exclusively odd order. If a vinyl copy is then made from that tape (or a digital copy of that tape), then when played back, even order harmonic distortion components would be added to what odd order distortion was originally present. "Filling in" a mostly (or totally) odd order distortion spectra with even harmonics causes the harshness of the odd-only harmonics to be mostly smoothed over, yielding a sound quality similar to what running the signal through a single ended triode amplifier would do.

    Thus the vinyl disc process can (and does in my experience) sound subjectively better than the original master tape.

    I have numerous instances where I have both a CD taken from an original master tape, and the vinyl version of that same file. In all instances, the digital copy has a "grey" quality to it for lack of a better word where the vinyl does not, and the vinyl has a more 3D feeling to the instruments/vocals; they exist more as something occupying space than a cardboard cutout.
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2017
    Zing and Wardsweb like this.

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